ISSN 2359-4101

Brazilian Literature in Translation / Literatura Brasileña en Traducción

Issue / Numero

year/año: 2012
issue/numero: # 04

Elite Squad

Author | Autor: Luiz Eduardo Soares, André Batist a, Rodrigo Pimentel

Translated by Clifford E. Landers


Friendly Fire
The news about Amâncio took me by surprise. Maybe that’s a dumb thing
to say, of course it was a surprise. Who could have been prepared to find
out, from one minute to the next, that one of his best friends had taken a
bullet in the back and was hanging between life and death in the Intensive
Care Unit of a military hospital? It was more than a surprise: it was almost like
catching a bullet myself. He was a policeman too, a former BOPE sergeant. He’d left
the force when his first child was born. His wife asked him to, and he felt her concern
made sense. Funny. When you’re in the BOPE you practically never think about danger.
But danger is our constant companion. So much so that you should never be
surprised by the news that some colleague was wounded and is hovering between
life and death in the ICU.
Maybe Amâncio’s case was so shocking precisely because he had already left the
BOPE, and because of the reasons that had led him to get out. It was fucking ironic
that he had survived dozens of BOPE incursions into the most dangerous favelas1 to
end up shot like that, on a Sunday afternoon, as he was getting ready to go home
after a 24-hour shift, probably anxious to see his wife and kid. He was part of the
2nd Battalion P2, the section responsible for intelligence. By law, P2 should limit itself
exclusively to investigating improper conduct among fellow officers of the Battalion.
But that’s not what happens. Since the Civil Police, with rare exceptions, doesn’t
investigate shit, it’s P2 that campaigns* at the entrances to favelas, taps traffickers
phones, and tails suspects around the city. That’s why P2 cops drive civilian cars with
standard license plates.
There are several advantages to being a policeman. One of them is that you know
everybody at the military hospital. In urban warfare there’s always something going on
there. People come by carrying people, visiting, telephoning to get the news. So you
can understand how it wasn’t hard to get into the ICU, violating medical regulations. I
sat down beside Amâncio, who was hooked up to all kinds of apparatus, and took his
hand. He opened his eyes, forced a half-smile, closed his eyes and whispered, It wasn’t
in the goddamn back. It was in the stomach. Shot in the stomach. I felt the tremor
tantrums through my body when Im about to explode. Putting it that way, it sounds
like I’m some kind of weapon. What explodes is a grenade. But there are situations
when I feel like a weapon. More specifically, a grenade. In this case, the metaphor is
very appropriate. Amâncio squeezed my hand and joked, Remember the grenade?
Shit yes, of course I do, how could anyone forget? I said. The lives of the entire team
were in your hand. Literally.

So you don’t lose the thread of the story, it’s important to know about the tale of
the grenade. But to do that, we have to leave the hospital for a moment and go
back in time, to the qualifying tests for the BOPE.
After riding a horse bareback for sixty miles without resting, dying of hunger
and thirst, totally devastated from physical exhaustion, our thighs and asses chafed
raw, we had the option of sitting in a basin of brine. The experience showed that it
was worth it to sit, despite the shooting pain. Some of us fainted from it. Even so, it
was better. Whoever spared himself was unable to even move the next day: inflamed
sores, covered with pus; swollen thighs, balls, and ass. The result: immobilized, they
were washed out. And the worst part was the ritual of humiliation that went with
their dismissal: they had to dig a grave and simulate their own death by lying in the
bottom of the hole.
Let’s skip the brine, because what comes later is better or worse, depending
on your point of view. While some of the horses dropped dead from fatigue, I’m
not exaggerating, they actually died the meal was served. But if you’re thinking of
a bountiful and tasty meal on a tray, you’re mistaken. The food was thrown onto a
canvas spread on the ground remember that we re out in the open and it s a winter
night. We have two minutes to eat. I did say two minutes. With our hands. Eat what
you can, however you can, that’s the motto. Anything goes. At times like this you see
that, reduced to our lowest common physiological denominator, all of us humans are
alike and resemble the lower mammals. The fight for survival is ugly to see and even
worse to experience.
But after the storm comes the calm, just as after extreme physical challenge
comes contemplation, abstraction, and intellectual instruction. Now, try to imagine
this: a band of dirty mud-caked guys, stinking of horses and with their balls rubbed
raw, their asses and thighs burning, drained of their last drop of energy, still famished
and thirsty, their fingernails black from vestiges of food, their hands greasy, forced to
listen to a long and boring lecture about the theory of antiguerrilla tactics in which
there’s no reference to action, just the fundamental concepts.
Add to it the following ingredient: the lecture was read, in a deliberately hypnotic
monotone. We were a bunch of sick, sleepwalking specters. We forced our eyes wide
open, knowing that dozing would cost very dearly.
Amâncio couldn’t resist and began to nod, overcome by sleep. The instructor
rose slowly and addressed him. He ordered him to squat over a tree trunk, took a
grenade from his belt, pulled the pin, and placed it in the wayward student’s hand. One
slipup would mean the end of that fine and brave pack. From then on, no one took his
eyes off Amâncio watching our colleagues watchfulness. Fear kept us awake better
than the best hot, bitter coffee could have done.

You held us all in your hand, I repeated. Amâncio still maintained his half smile,
taut as a tent in the troop s camp. Now the combat was his alone, just his. He
was by himself, with the grenade tied to his hand. I squeezed his hand so hed know
I was still at his side. You know what happened? What really happened? he asked in
a faint voice.
I told him it was better not to talk, he needed all his strength to win that battle.
I didn’t mean to be all dramatic and talk like that, with fight-for-life images and stuff
that looks pretty in a book but does a godawful lot of damage when spoken at the
deathbed of somebody who knows there is no fucking battle, just a pitiless massacre.
But he insisted. That’s how I learned what had happened that Sunday afternoon.

This is the faithful account of what Amâncio told me: Me and my partner were
heading back to the 2nd Battalion in the plain-wrapper Volkswagen that we used
for certain missions. We were on Rua Almirante Alexandrino, in Santa Teresa, because
wed been following a guy who was the link between the traffickers in the Santa Marta
favela and the lowlifes of Tabajara. But we lost him and, since wed already been on
duty for over 24 hours, we decided to go back. Up there, near the Balé favela, there’s
a fork in the road. We wanted to head down to Cosme Velho and Laranjeiras, but my
partner, who was driving, took the wrong road. When we realized it, we were on a very
steep incline that was taking us straight to the heart of the favela. There wasn’t any
way to back up, or to put on the brakes, get out of the car, and run away on foot. We
were practically sliding right into the middle of the favela. Our car was like a neon sign.
Shit, two men in a Volkswagen like that, we had to be either outlaws or cops. Either
way, we were gonna get shot at. The car moved ahead slowly, down the slope, and I
could already see the traffickers were gathered in the middle of the street. They were
handing out the guns and ammo. It hit me that we had only one way out: accelerating.
I shouted: Step on it, push it to the floor and keep your head down. It was like
bowling a strike. The car shot forward down the hill and we got three or four of
them. It was a shitstorm; guys were thrown everywhere; the car rolled over several
times. I managed to escape, in a hail of bullets. I ran, firing and looking for cover. I
don’t know what happened to Amílcar. I couldn’t look back. All I could do was run
down alleyways in the direction opposite the entrance. You must remember the
favela. Its in a valley, between the incline coming down from Santa Teresa and the
steps that go up, at the other end. I ran up the steps. They didn’t follow me. They
must’ve been seeing to the wounded.
Probably their leader was one of those we ran over. I gave it all I had and took
the steps three at a time. When I was about halfway up, some guys from the 1st
Battalion showed up at the head of the steps. I signaled to them and thought I was
saved by the bell.
Suddenly they pointed a rifle at me from up there and all I felt was that kick in
the stomach. Everything went black. I woke up here, after surgery. It was friendly fire,
amigo. Friendly fire. What I wanna know is why? Sure, I’m black and I was armed and
out of uniform, but fuck, why shoot at me before identifying a fellow officer?
Amâncio didn’t live beyond that day. At the funeral, when they fired the salute,
I felt like telling them to stop that farce, that charade. But I thought about his widow,
his son, pondered it a bit and decided the best thing would be to put a rock over
the affair. Better to have a father who was a hero, killed by enemies, than the victim
of a misunderstanding. I say misunderstanding in order to maintain a certain level of
moderation, out of respect for the memory of a dear friend, a courageous man. What
I really felt was like crying and vomiting out the truth about all that shit.

A Thousand and One Nights
The Special Operations Battalion, BOPE to insiders, arrives at the war grounds.
We’ve got a real hard-on to invade the favela, fucking A. Excuse me for talking
like that, but am I supposed to tell the truth or not? Soon you’re going to discover
that I’m a well educated guy, with schooling that few in Brazil have. You may even be
surprised to learn that I’m a student at the Catholic University, speak English, and have
read Foucault. But that comes later. I m going to take the liberty of speaking with total
frankness, and, you know it is, when you re sincere and speak freely, your words aren’t
always the most sober and elegant.
If you’re expecting a nice, polite testimony, forget it. Better put the book away
right now. Sorry, but I get irritated at people who want the truth and a refined
account at the same time. Truth has to be coaxed out, and it only descends upon the
foulmouthed type who refuses to filter the voice coming from his heart. Therefore, the
truth follows rough street language rather than the bowing and scraping of court. This
testimony is as if it were my house. Its going to be beautiful, sublime, and horrendous,
just like me, just the way my life has been. And the way yours probably is too. Come on
in, make yourself at home. The place is yours. At first you’ll find a few things strange,
but you’ll soon get used to it. I also found them odd in the beginning. When I joined
the force, I found a lot of things odd. But I soon got used to them. People adapt.
Therefore, my dear friend may I call you that? Fasten your seat belt and lets go on.
The first story takes place in the Jacaré favela.
It was more or less this way. We were arriving at Jacaré overflowing with love to
give if you understand me and with a shitload of willingness. As soon as we got out
of the wagon, two junkies came toward us because we had stopped just beyond the
curve of the main incline. I was a lieutenant at the time and commanded the patrol.
They didn’t even have time to pretend or try to flee. I grabbed the taller one by the arm
and shook him, for the son of a bitch to wake up and understand he d been caught in
the rattrap. He wasn’t armed but had some envelopes of coke in his pocket.
So the cocksuckers here to score some blow, eh? I’ll bet you this fag also gets
a kick out of marching all dressed in white and demonstrating for peace, huh? Say
something, asshole.
No, sir.
No, sir what, you piece of shit? You didn’t buy powder or you don’t like parading
for peace?
I don t deal, sir. I just came to get some for my own use.
Ah! Just for your personal use, so that’s it.
I grabbed a fire extinguisher from one of our wagons and discharged it in the guy
s nostrils. He looked like a meringue pie.
You want powder? You want white? Then have some white, you animal. Well, at
that point I must admit that I got hot under the collar and lost it. But I just knocked
him around a little, because I had a brilliant idea. I ordered Rocha to stop beating on
the other junkie.
Come here, you two. Stand up and look at me. That’s right, at my cell phone.
You’ve got three options: phoning your daddy and asking him to come get you,
that’s the first; eating a dozen boiled eggs, each of you, without water, that’s the
second; getting the shit beat out of you is the third. Your call.
They both chose the eggs. I knew they would. The last thing a junkie wants
is for his father to find out. What they didn’t know was that the eggs had been
in the transport since the night before because of an occupation the BOPE was
executing. In that delicious summer heat in Rio, the eggs were equivalent to a good
working over. God writes straight with crooked lines. Free will was honored. Even
so, the divine plan was carried out. Careful, don’t think I’m a born-again. That’s
purely a preconception on your part. Not every cop or crook who mentions God is
a born-again. So, you see? Its not just cops who are prejudiced, after all. Speaking
of prejudice, write down in your notebook that I’m black. Black in the politically
correct sense of the word, because from the merely physical point of view I’m
mulatto, dark-skinned, in reality. But let me make it clear - no pun intended -that
I’m black and prefer you to think of me as black, okay?
The problem was that there was only a dozen eggs, which forced me to improvise.
But, all modesty aside, I’m quite creative. The solution I found was ingenious. While
the shorter junkie was swallowing the eggs, to the rollicking applause of my men, the
other was burying himself up to the neck in a dumpster. Be honest don t you find it
an interesting punishment? If at this moment you recoil in horror and evoke human
rights, maybe you’d better close this book right now, man, because you re risking a
heart attack in a little while.
Well, actually I don’t want you to close the book, and I wouldn’t like you to get
a bad impression of me. Don’t take what I say all that seriously. Sometimes I say
whatever comes into my head and end up conveying a wrong image of myself, as if I
were inhuman, perverse, that kind of thing. But it’s not like that at all. When you get to
know me better you’ll see it’s not like that at all. I just wanted to tell this story because
it has a very funny ending. Here s how it happened: I was coming down from the favela
worn out; it had been a rough night. Over three hours of chasing junkies, without result.
Two soldiers from my unit were already waiting in the vehicle. I could hear their laughter
from a long way off. When I approached, they pointed the searchlight at the dumpster,
from which the junkie s head was sticking out, buried in that shit up to his neck.
What re you doing there, man? I asked.
You told me to stay here.
You can go now, dickhead.
I swear to God that I’d forgotten. If it wasn’t for the sound of the rats, the boys
wouldn’t have seen him. And if they hadn’t seen him, he might even be there till now.

*In police vocabulary, to campaign means to keep a watch on, to observe without being
seen. [Author’s note]

1. Favelas are shantytowns, usually found on hillsides, in Rio de Janeiro. [Translators note]

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